Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Once upon a time security at art festivals might consist of Boy Scouts patrolling the streets of Ann Arbor at night; Boy Scouts camping in the park at Winter Park or the University of Miami football team being "security" at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. True story ... 

Then came 9/11. Everything changed and continues to be more challenging. I was staff on the Super Bowl committee in Detroit a few years ago. We had security briefings that included local police, sheriffs, FBI and the border patrol. That was an event with a huge budget.

What has happened at the art fairs as we try to control these hugely popular, sprawling, well-attended events? Who'd attack an art fair? Who knows? Insurance companies and municipalities are requiring the shows to add 24 hour security, barricades, security cameras, train staffs for disasters. I'm sure I'm missing something here.

At the recent Arts Festival Conference sponsored by Zapp in Florida one of the topics was how to prepare an event for emergency situation. The truth: it is very costly. And VERY frightening. I learned:

  • Concrete barricades need to be put in place with a crane. How do you pay for that crane? One of the shows found a crane company to be a sponsor! 
  • a semi full of bike rack needs labor to get it on the street and off again
  • Maureen Riley from the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair said that their security costs have gone up 267% in recent years; just police was up 86%
  • Shows hire professional security people
  • Off duty policemen get paid double time and since this is such pleasant duty the ones with the highest seniority (and highest pay) are likely to be patrolling

Shows are looking for grants, partnerships with sponsors, partnering with their cities to find the funds so they don't get passed on to you. 

It used to be that the only disaster we had to prepare for was seriously bad weather.

As I sat there listening I was pretty horrified that it has come to this. Why is life so complicated? (rhetorical)

Views: 1010

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 6, 2018 at 6:45pm

Some of the show directors at the event gave figures for what security precautions were costing them. They ranged from $20,000 for a smaller 2 day show to nearly $90,000 for a bigger festival.

Comment by Mark Loeb on March 7, 2018 at 11:15am

It's semi-arbitrary too. Some communities are very aggressive on their requirements, while others still feel that it could never happen to them.

Comment by Nels johnson on March 8, 2018 at 9:38am

But here is the bottom line folks.

Tge high booth fees are making it almost impossible for a working artist to make a living at these shows.

Years before when booth fees were in the $150-$275 range, an artist could do $1500-$2500 and earn a tidy profit.  Multiply that by 20 plus shows and a living was possible.

Now, especially in Florida, routine fees fir just average hum drum shows are $400 plus, yet the sales grosses rarely hit $3K, in fact most do not hit even $2500 for a two day event.

Sorry folks, you cannot earn a living with those results.

I have been doing the shows for 43 years. It is real struggle now.

Comment by Barry Shandler on March 8, 2018 at 12:37pm

Like Nels I have been doing shows for over 40 years. At shows, Im sometimes asked about making a living by young people. Twenty years ago I answered how it could be done by going to sufficient shows and keeping up inventory. Work... but a nice life.  It was also possible to make some decent investments for retirement years. "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end" Today I answer that its almost impossible. The sales numbers balancing expenses are not there anymore. A nice website with some internet sales help a little in today's world but the travelling, art/craft show gypsie can barely squeak by.  Sure, things like good mailing lists, repeat steady customers,some retail store buyers, and new fantastic products  help, and there will always be a few that do great, but overall I never recommend it to any young craftsman or artist.

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on March 8, 2018 at 2:08pm

Too many artist fail to look at their art as a business and suffer the consequences. Sixty years ago this June, I started a six year apprenticeship at the ripe old age of fifteen. I wanted to go to college to be a geologist. I look back and see that I was always changing strategies as I pursued my dual career in the mining industry and part time saddle maker until mining went bust in 1990. I started a kitchen table custom belt business in grad school, later I supplied retail tack shops for decades, at one time I had sales reps in 4 western states. I started doing art shows in the early 1990's. Analysis and change, more analysis and changes have been my world. I went the travel to show route for a few years but found I could net more by being selective close to home.  I seldom get rejected by a show as my stuff sells. If I do, it is their loss not mine. I don't think artists, as a whole, pay much attention to the business world around them and how it impacts their art. How many painters or photographers select shows based on condo and new home construction in an area? That is all blank wall space. I sell a lot of belts and holsters. Every time the Second Amendment debate flares up, I sell more holsters, and most people gain weight rather than losing it. Either way they will need new belts.  As a business person I have to pass on some artwork I WANT TO DO, and focus on what I know will sell better at the shows. These are just some examples of the business side of art.

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on March 26, 2018 at 12:24pm

With regard to the insurance expense at shows: I think it's interesting that a number of shows now require the artist to provide his own liability insurance  with the show as the beneficiary!  An interesting wrinkle.  And yet another way that the artist is forced to bear expense that he can't afford (yes, I know insurance is available for $35/show; but it's still one more thing).


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